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Mos Def "Tru3 Magic" [review]

You know the old saying "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it"? I am truly living that right now.

Although I enjoyed The New Danger, I was feenin' off of tracks like "Beef", and stayed confused as to why Mos Def wasn't dropping MORE straight up Hip-Hop cuts. With his final solo LP for Geffen, Tru3 Magic, dropping soon (Jan. '07 from what I hear), he tackles Hip-Hop with a fury - and with mixed results.

The meat of the tracks I dig on this collection are ones that I've already heard: everyone should know the controversy behind his Katrina-war cry, "Dollar Day (Surprise, Surprise)", which turns Juvenile's "Nolia Clap" on it's ear, and does what Hip-Hop is meant to do: challenge authority, make you dance, and do it with a defiant swagger not seen in any other form of music these days. "Undeniable" was released as a single recently, sounds like he took Black Jack Johnson and made them recreate some Superfly-esque flavor to some 2k6 minimal bass kicks. It's got a nice, smooth feel to it, letting Black Dante coast with his buttery flow. "There Is A Way" again seems to be taken from some mid-'70s Black Power meeting, with it's sung/chant of "there is a way/no matter what they say". Sounds like a revolution - but against what, and with whom, is the question. "Crime & Medicine" has Mos Def revisiting The GZA's "Liquid Swords". Mos actually sing/toasts the classic "when the MCs came..." lines, and proceeds to murk that ska sample. I'm not sure if I'm just into the fact that he picked one of my favorite beats or that he just sounds so perfect over it, but regardless, this track is my pick of the litter.

Of the newer tracks, they are scattered. "Thug Is A Drug" has Mos asking these thugged out MCs on the mic to "tell the truth"... over and over. The beat is a mixture of 808 beats, an odd piano sample, and loads of tumbling drums, making a meal that can be funky, but it sounds to basic for Mos' complex lyrics. This is something that kills a good part of the project for me: the lack of dope beats to back up the dope rhymes. "Murder of a Teenage Life" highlights and explains the ills of today that can contribute to, well, the killing of many of today's teens, but the annoying keys clutter up Mos' preaching. "Fake Bonanza" revisits the funky, sample heavy sound of the Black Star album, which is a blessing - I don't think I've heard Mos sound like this since Black On Both Sides, and I miss it. "Perfect Timing" has Mos over a sparse boom-bap, which is weird on it's own, but his voice has this ridiculous echo on it, so his rhymes sound like the mumbles of Black Thought on The Roots' "Don't Say Nuthin'", but it sounds like he is paying tribute to some of the Golden Era Hip-Hop acts (Get Fresh Crew, JMJ, Rakim, etc.), I just never get why the dedication to real Hip-Hop are never really "Hip-Hop". "Napolean Dynamite" has a smooth, funk-heavy feel to it, but at times Mos actually sounds like other guys - I swear parts of his first verse remind me of MF Doom's DangerDoom flows, with his "green and googly wide-eyed and surprised/razzle dazzle tiny mustache and fry-fry" type of lines (note: that's not a 100% verbatim, but it's damn close).

Mos ends this album with a track that tries to revisit the beauty of "Umi Says" called "Lifetime". Under an odd mixture of live drumming, dull keys and some baby noises, Mos croons about, well, "keep-keeping on" and all other types of "don't give up"-style musings. Does it work? Not necessarily, which has been a problem with Mos post-BOBS. He is a true artist, so his passion is to keep it fresh - not reinvent the wheel type pressure, but to keep pushing himself to stay new, stay current, but also stay out there. I'm not sure if he wanted to stay on good terms with Geffen by delivering an album that could get played on Black Radio, but none of these tracks truly speak to the Top40 bullshit that is out there. While "Dollar Day" drops a recognizable beat, most niggas would rather give their FEMA dollars back to the Dope Man than try and take the revolution to Dubya's face. "There Is A Way" might be cool in the New Black Panter Party set, but no one gives 2 shits about that kind of revolution these days. On the tracks where Mos is more laid back with his flow, not trying to be on some "action NOW!" type of feel, the music is too lackluster to be taken seriously.

At the end of the day, Mos Def is probably one of the most gifted lyricists making music right now -- it's just how does he want to go. Is he trying to be Andre3000, who can kick an ill verse (peep his shit on the "Walk It Out (Remix)"), but album wise wants to be the poor-man's John Coltrane? Is he trying to appeal to the Kanye-crowd of kids who will go buying (RED) products whilst getting Fendi logos carved into their head? If Mos is smart, he'd fill the void that Public Enemy has left - the voice of the streets. There aren't too many prominent griots in the mainstream right now, and with his acting chops, he should be able to tackle both avenues. It's really on him right now. Mos: there is a way...

rock the dub gives Tru3 Magic 6.5 stars out of 10. While there are flashes of Mos' bright light, his divided interests hinder him from creating a truly cohesive long player.

NOTE: This review is of a promo copy of the Tru3 Magic album. It is slated to drop in Jan. of 2007, or on Dec. 19th 2006, depending on who you ask, and the tracklisting is subject to change. Get more info at Mos' website. Also check out Mos on MySpace.

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